By the time most of us hit our 40s the cars we owned in our teenage years are simply a bygone memory. Not so for Drury Tires’ managing director, Anthony Wright, who bought this beautiful big Buick at the tender age of 18 and still has it parked in his garage, 24¯years later.
The story goes back to 1981, at which time the 18-year-old Anthony had already bought and sold 10¯cars, helped by the fact his father was an auto wrecker, and had access to cars at a time when they generally were in short supply.
Anthony had an overwhelming desire to own a ’59 Cadillac. Scanning the pages of the New Zealand Herald in June 1981, Anthony spied a ’59 Caddy for sale and promptly dragged his father off to inspect it. When they got to Mt Wellington a sorry sight lay before them. Rotten with rust, missing chrome, and various parts, the Caddy was no gem, and Anthony’s dad, Adrian, told his eager son not to lay out his money on this sorry—looking excuse for a Yank Tank.
Buying a Buick, Fast or Last.
Still badly hanging out to own a classic ride, Anthony purchased another copy of the Herald the very next day, and although there were no Cadillacs listed, a 1960 Buick Electra¯225 was advertised for the princely sum of $2500. He leapt onto the phone, and soon cajoled the owner into a cross-town trip from Massey to Drury to demonstrate the vehicle. When Anthony and his father first spied the Buick, both were impressed. This was a very clean ’60 four-door pillarless sedan, and rather than lose the deal by trying to grind the owner down, Anthony paid out the asking price straight away.
The vendor, a racehorse owner, was a bit of a hard case, giving Anthony a list of prospective buyers who had phoned up about the Buick, telling him to ring them up on his behalf, saying, “Sorry but you’re too late.” Not only that, but he had owned the car twice already, and Anthony later surmised he had to sell the beast as he’d run short of the readies, and had then re-purchased it when he was flush again. In fact three months after Anthony took ownership, the old boy was on the blower offering him $5000 to buy it back! This time he was out of luck, but garnered a promise out of Anthony to sell it back to him if he ever decided to part company with the Buick. He’s contacted him from time to time over the last 24¯years, just in case Anthony was getting ready to unload the car. Persistence can pay off, but not in this case!
Normally an 18-year-old and his loose mates would soon trash such a fine ride, slamming it down, throwing a set of mag wheels on, a fat exhaust, and other such niceties deemed necessary to teenage life, but the young Anthony was determined to preserve his acquisition and decided to “use the car when I get real old, about 40,” so the Buick spent most of his formative years safely ensconced in the garage.
Leadfoot Sandy Nails the ‘Coon
Which was probably just as well, as Anthony is a family man and a devout Christian these days, but he and his mates were simply a bunch of rough and ready fast-living South Auckland hoons back then. The odd time they took the car out, life was fraught with danger. One night, long ago, they were cruising back down the Southern Motorway after a trip to Whangarei with Anthony’s mate Sandy, a notorious lead-foot, at the wheel. An XB Falcon GT¯351 pulled alongside at 80mph then floored it, pulling away quickly. Now the Buick might be big, but with a 401¯cube Nailhead V8 underhood, it sure as heck ain’t slow. Sandy was quick to take up the challenge, stomping hard down on the gas pedal and quickly reeled the racing ’Coon back in. He then proceeded to wind it out to 190-odd kays before leaving the Falcon floundering in their wake as the boys pulled away nudging 140mph, they reckon, before the speedo cable broke! Needless to say it was a wise decision to leave the Buick at home back when the boys were out partying, and over the ensuing years Anthony has only clocked up 24,140km, leaving the Buick very much in its original state.
Car Starved Kiwis
This car has had an interesting history in NZ. It was imported circa 1963 for a dentist, and was promptly converted to RHD on arrival. Back then this car would have been one of the most prestigious vehicles driven on Kiwi roads. To bring that statement into perspective one has to realise that NZ was starved of cars from the second World War until the early 1980s, a far cry from the chronic oversupply we have today.
Now the US General Motors make and model line-up had a defined hierarchy back in the early ’60s, with Cadillac at the top, followed by Buick, then Oldsmobile, Pontiac, and Chevrolet. Chevvies in the States were perceived as mass market base-line cars, whilst Buicks were sold to bankers, lawyers, senior management and the like (the MD got a Cadillac, of course). The Electra¯225 was Buick’s top model, and as such it was a very up-market car.
Back home in little old car-starved NZ, in 1963 one could buy GM’s North American cars brand new from the dealer, if you had access to overseas funds for the purchase, but you were limited to the Chevrolet Bel Air or Pontiac Laurentian, both Canadian cars, CKD (Completely Knocked Down) and assembled locally, with GM’s trusty 283 Powerglide auto and very little in the way of options. These were base-line cars back home but were sold here as top-of-the-line luxury cars, usually to rich Cockies, flush with overseas funds from the season’s wool cheque.
Passed Around the Sharks
So a Buick Electra 225 was almost like a car from outer space to the Antipodean peasantry. It was Movie Star material. Over here this car and its owners stood out from the herd. The early NZ ownership papers reflect this, with addresses like St Heliers featuring, and more than just a few local car sharks appearing, with the vehicle passed around from one shark to the next before some lucky buyer was able to bribe or cajole the Buick from the dealer’s grasp. By 1965 the car had migrated out to West Auckland (how surprising!), then it moved down to the lush pastoral lands of the Waikato in 1966, going through several Waikato dealers and three rural owners, who all must obviously have tired of their ‘humble’ Chevrolet or Pontiac on the farm. From there the big Buick migrated back north to Auckland, and ended up out west again, with the erstwhile racehorse owner who sold it, bought it back, and finally sold it again to Anthony, with whom it will probably dwell for all time.
225 Inches of Top Line Luxury
The Buick range was all-new in 1959 following corporate GM’s A-body styling trends, and 1960 saw the larger-than-life tail fins shaved a tad, and minor styling detail changes. Buick’s trademark ‘Ventiports’ returned after a two-year absence. Engineering advances included a new box girder ‘K’ frame chassis that provided more rigidity. Finned front aluminium drum brakes provided far greater cooling for less fade, and Buick engineered a quiet car by reducing NVH levels. Twilight Sentinel lights were introduced as an option, and those of you with later model Holdens who thought this was a daring Aussie feature, sorry, like most power gizmos it originated in the United States a long time ago!
The model range consisted of the base Le Sabre, mid-range Invicta, and premium Electra and Electra¯225 models. The 225 got its name from its overall length of 225.9¯inches compared to the standard Electra’s 221.2¯inches. The range included a four-door Electra 225 Riviera Hardtop, the Electra 225 hardtop (like Anthony’s) and an Electra 225 convertible coupe. All got the topline 401 Buick mill rated at 325¯horsepower at 4400rpm and 445 ft/lbs of torque at 2800rpm, with Twin Turbine automatic standard. The Triple Turbine was optional, as was the Posi-Traction limited slip differential.
A plethora of options were available, with the 225 models having the highest level of specification, naturally. Buick put itself well and truly to the test in 1960 by taking a production car to Daytona International Speedway, running it non-stop for three-and-a-half days, clocking up 16,093km at an impressive average of 120.12 mph without any problems whatsoever.
Smooth As They Come
Production levels for 1960 weren’t high, with the division falling to ninth place overall, which was its lowest rating since 1905 with 307,804 units produced: that figure included 8029 Electra 225 Riviera pillarless sedans, 6746 Electra 225 convertibles, and 4841 Electra 225 four-door Hardtops, of which Anthony’s is the only example currently domiciled in NZ.
Anthony will no doubt keep his Buick forever, and his younger brother Alan has joined him by obtaining a very sharp-looking ’60 Cadillac Sedan De Ville four-door hardtop.
Both brothers can be found during the day planting the familiar yellow ‘Drury Tyres A Family Business’ stickers that can be seen on the back windscreens of so many cars and trucks all over Auckland, and way beyond besides (Anthony has told me they have been spotted as far away as London and Tel Aviv!), but I’m sure he would really would prefer to be out cruising around in the Buick. It really is a pleasure to ride in, whisper quiet and smooth as they come. This was a top-of-the-line ride when new, and like a fine wine it has aged well with the years.
1960 Buick Electra 225
Engine: 401 (6571cc) V8 bored 60 thou over to 410 cid 4bbl Carter
Factory power output: 325hp (242kW) at 4400 rpm, 445lb/ft (603Nm) torque at 2800 rpm
Transmission: Twin Turbine Drive automatic
Rear axle: Buick Torque Tube semi-floating rear axle with hypoid gears 3.23:1 ratio
Suspension: Ball joint front suspension, coil springs front and rear, front stabiliser, track bar, hydraulic shocks all round.
Brakes: Power assisted finned aluminium drums front, finned cast iron drums rear. Total lining area 218.03 inches
Steering: Power assisted recirculating ball
Exhaust: Factory exhaust manifolds, all stainless steel back from there built to factory spec with one massive muffler and dual exhausts
Electrical: 12-volt Delco-Remy system
Weight: 4650lb (2109kg)
Wheelbase: 126.3 inches (2328mm)
Length: 225.9 inches (5792mm)
Wheels/tyres: Factory spec 8.00×15, now running Crestwood 235/75-15 radials
Note: Anthony, as you would expect, is an expert on tyres and points out that many American cars, for instance, will often ride and handle far better with US-made rubber purpose-built for the car, as opposed to fitting Euro or Jap rubber. He has experimented over the years with many different brands, and simply states that the big Yankee cruisers run far better on US tyres designed specifically for the car.
The rest: Electric windows, six-way power front seat, was factory air conditioned (not fitted now) and with a whole swag of Electra 225 standard features besides like back-up lights, glare-proof rear mirror, De Luxe wheel covers, and much more!
Occupation: Managing Director, Drury Tyres
City: Drury, Auckland
Previously owned cars: HQ Holden Commonwealth Games car
Dream car: Owns it, but originally wanted ’59 Cadillac
Length of ownership: 24 years